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Stress -- What You Need to Know

New Wave Equine Therapy is moving forward into an area of working with horses that up to this time, has been completely ignored; and that area is stress management in horses.


But before we can discuss stress management and how it affects your horse we need to look at how your horse’s brain works and compare it to our own.


To start with do not think the same way that we do; their brain is structured in a totally different manner, and how your horse uses their brain along with our input becomes the causes of the various levels of stress that your horse may experience.

When we look at and compare the brain of the horse to that of our own the most important area to consider is the “frontal lobe”. In our brain the frontal lobe is extremely large and well developed, for this is the part of our brain that allows us to be able to process all of the information that we receive daily and adds to our personalities, as well as our ability to develop cognitive abilities.


The exact opposite is true for your horse when we compare the same area (frontal lobe) contain within the horse; in fact, the majority of the other sections of your horse’s brain that provide movement and overall athleticism are developed the way that our frontal brain is.

The frontal lobe of your horse’s brain is very undeveloped and therefore does not give them anything close to the ability to reason through a problem even close to the ability that you or I have. In fact, put your horse in a situation where they need to reason their way out of it and you will most likely end up with a horse in full flight mode which will result in your horse bolting away so that it might protect itself. Not to mention the high levels of stress that has been created within that exercise.


It is the size, development, and the way that your horse uses their frontal lobe that leads to the various levels of stress that can be created within any given situation. Stress is a condition that develops within your horse’s body and if left unchecked can lead to chronic problems.


Just as in people, when a horse does become stressed the hormone “cortisol” is released; this hormone is often referred to as “the stress hormone” which is produced by the adrenal glands and settles within the bloodstream and the saliva of your horse. This hormone (cortisol) is pick up by cells throughout your horse’s entire body and is used in a positive manner to regulate your horse’s metabolism, regulate your horse’s electrolyte balance, and help to reduce any inflammation. Although cortisol is very important to help regulate the overall health of your horse it can from time-to-time become unbalanced and that is what often leads to health issues.


When a horse has high levels of cortisol it actually weakens the horse’s natural defense mechanism making them much more open to problems from bacterial diseases, such as; thrush or even rain rot.

There are basically two levels of stress that are apparent in horses and they are; long-term which is referred to as Chronic Stress and short-term which is referred to as Acute stress. Understanding the difference between the two categories will help to manage your horse’s stress. In order to help you understand the differences between the two types of stress I have included some of the indicators for both Acute Stress and Chronic Stress, and they are:


Acute Stress Indicators


  • Trembling

  • Tense Muscles

  • Shying

  • Bolting

  • High Head/Neck Carriage

  • Wringing of Tail

  • Pacing


Chronic Stress Indicators


  • Stall Walking or Weaving

  • Change in Attitude

  • Aggression

  • Gastric Ulcers

  • Teeth Grinding

  • Skin Infections

  • Colic

  • Dull Coat

  • Decreased Performance


Now, these are just a few of the many indicators for both acute and chronic stress levels; every horse is different and every horse reacts differently in the same situation. Here is where it is important to know what is normal for your horse and what is out of the ordinary. Just as people hold in indicators of stress, horses too may do the very same thing and this can be very upsetting for horse owners that are suddenly faced with their horse having health issues that seemed to have come out of nowhere.


The area of stress management that New Wave Therapy has ventured into is relatively new and we have made great progress with many different horses in many different situations. In the process of helping horses, their owners, and returning horses to a level of performance that seemed to have fallen by the wayside we have opened the door to many past problems that have seemed to be unreachable in the past.


If you have a horse that you feel would benefit from our services, please contact us and we would greatly appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about your horse and determine how we would be able to help both you and your horse.


Our next post will be a continuation of this very topic and expand into the area of the “Seven Stressors” that are some of the main causes that induce the various levels of stress within the horse’s body. We will cover what these “Seven Stressors” are how they function and what you can do for each of them. So, keep an eye out because it will be up very soon.


Until next time, this Is Bob Burdekin of New Wave Therapy saying; “Thanks for coming by!”

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